In agriculture circles it is not uncommon to see the phrase: “To those that work in acres not hours,” but what does that mean? Farming and ranching is a career known for its long hours and grueling schedules, it is hardly alone in that category, however how we calculate those hours tends to be different. How many hours we work is not nearly as important as how productive we are. How many acres did we cover? I gauge the success or failure of my day on how many acres I wanted to get done and how many acres I actually got done. Not all of the tasks we tackle can be tackled that way – for example a fence is not calculated in acres, it is calculated in miles – but many of the main tasks are. Spraying, seeding, haying and harvest are all measured by the number of acres we finish.
Measuring a Day
It is not unusual to measure productivity in a workplace. When I worked at UPS we measured a variety of different metrics including “pieces per hour” (PPH) and “stops per on-road hour” (SPORH). Amazon also had production metrics to measure the success of the day. These metrics were included in performance reviews and provided the baseline we needed to set short and long term goals for the operation. Other jobs, including office jobs, are often measured by hours worked and the number of projects you can accomplish. Salaried jobs (at least in my experience) often count hours less than hourly positions.
In agriculture often we measure our days and our productivity by the number of acres we can cover in a day or even in an hour. We expect to cover these acres and any delays cut into our overall productivity. We plan our workload, man power, and capital investments around our ability to cover the number of acres we have in a certain amount of time. For example we expect to harvest between 250-300 acres per day (I am not impressed if we are not closer to 300). We know we can reasonably expect to finish a 2500 acre wheat harvest in less than 10 days.
We also expect to be able to seed a certain number of acres a day. In our case we usually have two air drills and we combine the productivity of the two to determine the total number of acres we expect to cover. In our case that is 500 acres. We can cover roughly 25 acres per hour, resulting in an average of 10 hours behind the wheel of the tractor every day.
Not everything we do is measured in the number of acres we cover in a day of course. But rarely, if ever, do we count hours. We measure productivity by the number miles of fence we put up, the progress we make on a corral project, or the number of loads of wheat we haul. Or like many other people, we measure the success of our day by the number of things we check off our “to-do” list. For us, we do not have bonuses that hinge on our productivity or performance reviews, but we do know the more productive, generally the more successful we are.
Ranchers typically work on an entirely different set of productivity expectations. They expect to work a certain number of cows a day, move a certain number of cows to new pastures, or to check a certain number of pastures. Dairies are entirely different in that they milk cows twice a day, everyday, and fit in various other tasks between the two milking times.
In both of my previous careers I was salaried, so I rarely, if ever knew how many hours a week I worked. The hours all blended together throughout long and often stressful weeks. Agriculture does not have a monopoly on long hours and/or stressful jobs – but as I have discussed several times, it is simply different than most careers. But what does distinguish us from other careers is our reliance on acreages as a measure of productivity. Acreage per day is also understood by farmers across the country. Hectares per day is understood by farmers globally.
So now, when you see the phrase “to those who work in acres not hours,” you can think of myself, my dad, my brother or my husband driving back and forth across our fields, measuring our productivity by the number of acres we can cover. You can think of us planning our busy season by calculating our labor needs based on the equipment we have and the number of acres we can cover per day. You can think of me sitting in the combine, watching the sunset over the western horizon, satisfied with another 300 acre day, and blissfully unaware of the number of hours worked in the day.